Walt Disney Studios Brought the Big Names to D23 Expo

Easily the biggest panel at D23 Expo 2019 (although Disney+ gave it a run for its money) is the Walt Disney Studios showcase on Saturday morning. In it we expected huge updates about the slates for Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Disney Animation, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.


The panel began with Kathleen Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. They brought out cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, Anthony Daniels, and William December Williams.

While none of the cast said too much (a theme of the day), Russell did say her character Zorri is “a criminal and… an old friend of Poe’.” To which Isaac and Boyega had a fake spat. Playing up for the crowd, surely.

Next they unveiled a truly gorgeous new poster. Kylo Ren and Rey fight on top of what looks to be half-sunken wreckage of the Death Star, with the ghostly visage of Palpatine watching above them. Most intriguing.

But this led to a brief footage package which had several fairly shocking beats. Not least for me was a shot of a sky full of Star Destroyers. Truly foreboding. But the thing everyone will talk about is a shot of a dark-hooded Rey holding a red lightsaber. The lightsaber reticulates and becomes a double-bladed saber. Probably this is some kind of vision, but who can say?


Next up was Marvel, and Kevin Feige arrived on stage wearing a Black Widow baseball cap. One of the first things he did was bring Ryan Coogler on stage to officially announce Black Panther II. It won’t be called that, but we can’t know the full title yet. And while they could say literally nothing about the movie, they did say it’ll come out on May 6, 2022.

Next, Feige brought out the cast of Eternals–the exact same people who came out during the SDCC panel, but with new addition of actor Barry Keoghan as Druig. In addition, Feige announced Gemma Chan (who played Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel) as Sersi. And we quickly learned who Kit Harington will play in the MCU: Dane Whitman, aka Black Knight. Seemingly perfect for the former King in the North.

Finally, some Black Widow stuff! After a brief, and frankly not funny (sorry) video message from stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, and David Harbor telling us all to get excited, we were treated to an extended scene and sizzle reel. This begins with Natasha Romanov’s scenes in Captain America: Civil War, after which her solo movie will take place. Tony Stark says “they’re coming for you.”

Cut to: Budapest. Natasha climbing stairs, looking for someone. Yelena (Pugh) holds a gun on her. Standoff. Big knock-down fight scene. Very Bourne inspired. But they’re sisters, so it was all for show, essentially. David Harbour is particularly furry as Red Guardian. Family back together again. The sizzle ends with a fight between Black Widow and Taskmaster, who–true to form–does Nat’s moves back at her.

Disney Live-Action

Walt Disney live-action output is very much in keeping with its recent slate. We have Jungle Cruise based on the popular Disneyland ride. It stars Dwayne Johnson as a low-rent boat captain who’s hired by Emily Blunt to go into the deepest part of the jungle to find…something. The film looks to be set in the early 1900s and has a fun Romancing the Stone vibe. But Disney, so probably not particularly sexy.

Next is Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Angelina Jolie returns to play the title character, whom she says she “missed”. Co-stars Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Chiwetel Ejiofor joined her on stage before we got to see an extended scene. That shows Maleficent’s apprehension at Aurora’s upcoming nuptials. She might have reason for it; Aurora’s soon-to-be mother-in-law (Pfeiffer) is a pretty horrible Queen, who seems to want to be Aurora’s “real mother” so she can take over the kingdom vacated by Aurora’s dad. A big ol’ faeries vs. human war will ensue.

Emma Stone will play a young Cruella De Vil in the upcoming Cruella. We got our first glimpse of her pleather-clad look and it’s instantly iconic. Emma Thompson will play older Cruella. Also iconic.

Finally, we got more of a look at Mulan. Which looks good.


Newly named Chief Creative Officer for Pixar, Pete Docter, arrived on stage to talk about the next two films from the company. First he talked about Soul, a movie about jazz music and metaphysics. What fun!

Joe, a middle school band teacher, dreams of becoming a professional jazz musician. After he finally gets his big break, he seemingly dies and his soul goes to a soul dimension. It looks like a Bill Peet-esque pop-art utopia. The voice cast includes Jamie Foxx as Joe, Tina Fey as a new soul Joe teams up with in the afterlife, Questlove as Joe’s band mate, Daveed Diggs as Joe’s neighborhood nemesis, and Phylicia Rashad as Joe’s mother. Soul will come out June 19, 2020, and feature new music from Jon Batiste and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross.

Second, we have Onward, a fantasy-world journey of two brother elves (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) who want learn they can bring their long-deceased father back to life for one day. But it’s not that easy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the boys’ mother, Laurel.

Disney Animation

And finally, Disney Animation. CCO Jennifer Lee (Oscar-winning co-director of Frozen) introduced a brand new movie, Raya and the Last Dragon. It’s an adventure story based on the culture and people of Southeast Asia. There’s some Hong Kong action in there. DeGrassi‘s Cassie Steele voices Raya and Awkwafina voices Sisu, the dragon. She’s trapped in human form and needs Raya to get her dragonian groove back.

The animation we saw looks almost photo-realistic. The rain hitting the forest and Raya’s cloaked visage looks like they just went out and shot a real location and actor. But once we see the character’s face, we see it’s definitely a Disney movie.

And finally, some stuff from this winter’s Frozen II. That movie will explore the story of why Elsa has powers and Anna doesn’t. We saw some extended clips of Elsa hearing a voice from the past and then singing another belter of a song. Idina Menzel; turns out, quite a good singer.

We learned that Evan Rachel Wood had joined the cast as Anna and Elsa’s mom in a flashback, and Sterling K. Brown has joined as Lt. Matthius in the present. Finally, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, and Jonathan Groff took the stage to sing a new song from the movie. Damn thing’s gonna make me cry, I know it.

All in all, an absolutely PACKED morning at D23 Expo. What movie are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments below!

Kyle Anderson is the Editor at Large for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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